Relationships are really hard. No, I’m not dealing with any relationship problems right now, either platonic or romantic. Over the past week or so, more of my everyday occurrences have consisted of relational interaction, and great interaction at that. I have no complaints about relationships right now.
But, as I ponder over the idea of relationships and the commitment, effort, and dedication required of them, I honestly get freaked out. I’m not a commit-o-phobe or anything; committing to anything doesn’t bother me or give me the heebie-jeebies. But the overall requirements and requests that come with any form of relationship get dicey. Time, emotions, mental exertion, discernment, forgiveness, grace. And sometimes, we just don’t have any of those things to give. We’re so exhausted from everything else that we have going on, that we can’t put anything into relationships and we shut down. We become “emotionally unavailable” to our friends, significant others, and family members. And, speaking from experience, it really hurts to have someone be emotionally unavailable when you’re making yourself available.
Just for a moment, let’s zoom in on the most common and most identified relationship: the romantic/dating relationship. That’s where we’ll focus today. Tomorrow, we’ll look at platonic relationships.
Your Facebook has that designation for not being single or involved with someone in an engagement or even further: “In a relationship.” It’s the ultimate form of exclusivity in our society, the definition of emotional and romantic interest in the opposite sex. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 2 months or so that I’ve said, “I’m not in a place where I can be in a relationship.” Mainly, that was my response to someone asking me about dating someone in Newnan, due to the fact that my time was coming very quickly to an end. Add that to the fact that I had just gotten out of a relationship where I put in all of the effort and work, and you get a toxic combination of guardedness and emotional frustration that I’ve been fighting with and beating ever since (with much success). I couldn’t readily commit to a relationship where I was going to be 9+ hours separated from the girl I was dating, with no sureness on either one of us visiting. Honestly, it became a crutch. I used it to coast through the last few weeks and months of my time there. The idea of being in a dating relationship with someone is sometimes more appealing than actually being in one. We romanticize and fantasize about the thought of dating, and it looks so great and so wonderful. Then, when we find someone who makes the idea of dating that much more attractive, it feels like heaven’s angels lit the path to them; we become more than okay with committing to the idea of dating. Things are great for the first little while; you’re both happily going through life hand-in-hand and still loving the idea of dating.
Then, one day a few months in, the switch flips. The idea of dating instantly becomes the real thing. The first fight happens. She does something annoying. He gets comfortable with you. The shine wears off, the glitter stops sticking to the paper, and we end up being covered in little sparkly pieces of plastic that not even sandblasting can remove. And we think to ourselves, “What the heck happened?!?!? This is NOT what I was expecting. I thought dating was going to be easy and lovely.” We forget that the idea of dating isn’t actually dating at all, and it’s a distant utopian thought. We come to a crossroads now; we can either jump ship and break things off because “this isn’t working out” (aka I’m too much of a pansy to work on what we have), or we can sit down and say, “What isn’t working? What can we work on? What can we start doing to make this more natural/fun/etc.?”
This takes guts. I’ve been the first option. I’ve been the one who’s abandoned ship for that very reason. And I’ve ruined perfectly good relationships because my personal preference and comfort meant more to me than the person sitting across the table from me. And I’ve also been the second option. I’ve attempted to solve problems, stop doing certain things, and actually be a man. I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I’ve felt the sting of someone saying that what we had wasn’t working out. Spoiler alert: it sucks.
The truth is, when the idea of dating turns into the reality of dating, a person’s true colors come out, no matter how good or bad those colors may look. That’s why relationships are hard. We all have some sort of preconceived notion, some sort of unrealistic expectation, or some kind of prejudice that makes us all hard to work with. And when we take all of that baggage into relationships with other people who have the same baggage as us, it becomes a volatile concoction that’s sure to explode sooner or later.
I may not be the wisest, most experienced, or greatest authority on dating and relationships, but among everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned these vital things:
1. Be willing to work. It doesn’t matter how new the car may smell, feel, or look, you still have to maintain it. Two people coming together to do life in harmony means two full lives of hardship, establishment, and chaos try to fit into a container that only can hold one life. Hear me loud and clear: you are going to have problems. You are going to fight. You are going to absolutely hate something that she does. You are going to get mad at him for getting comfortable with you and stopping the cute things he used to do. So brace yourself. When that happens, your friendship will have to come into play. You’ll have to talk it out. You’ll have to put in effort to either be more conscious of what you do or actively tell her how beautiful she is, how much you like her, and how happy she makes you. Don’t cop out and ditch on the relationship just because of a few rough patches.
2. Be authentic, no matter what. Vulnerability is hard stuff. Putting yourself out there without any promise of being accepted is scary. And vulnerability is no fun when you’re the only one. Trust me, I know that feeling and I hated being vulnerable when it wasn’t being reciprocated. If you’re going to be in a committed, growing relationship with another person, the growing part can’t happen unless you’re open. Not just one of you, but both of you. Yes it is going to hurt. Yes it is going to be awkward. We all have some dusty skeletons in our closets, and when we’re authentic with one another, it could get pretty dicey. But, more times than not, having those hard conversations of, “Here’s my junk. This is who I am. This is what I’ve done, where I’ve been, why I’m me,” allow us to grow even closer to one another and make actually dating someone easier and more natural.
3. Be clear and transparent. This kind of goes along the lines of being authentic. Our society pegs clarity as harsh and brutal. We end up being conditioned to only say the things that are nice and pretty and lovey-dovey. But when you only say good things and suck up to the person you’re dating, the truth of the matter is you aren’t actually dating them; you’re wimping out and not caring about them enough to say the hard things that you need to say. To be unclear is to be unkind. Right from the beginning of your relationship, you made it clear: I want to date you. So why aren’t you being clear anymore? Make your intentions clear, make your non-negotiobles clear, make your likes and dislikes clear. Be authentic, open, and clear no matter what the cost is.
4. Don’t compromise. By no means do I mean that you shouldn’t come to compromises within the relationship. That’s how you work through the problems, through compromise and sacrifice. When I say, “Don’t compromise,” I mean don’t settle for something or someone who doesn’t meet your list. Everyone has a list of things that he or she needs in a significant other, whether it’s written down or not. Stick to that list. If someone doesn’t meet your standards, it really is okay. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that something is wrong with them; it means that you just aren’t supposed to pursue that relationship. Let me repeat that, because that’s huge. Hear me on this: nothing is wrong with you or your standards if someone doesn’t meet them. He may be absolutely amazing and lovely, she may be drop dead gorgeous, and most importantly love Jesus so much, but if they don’t meet the list that you’ve made, then that is completely okay. Be friends with them. Serve Jesus with them. But don’t compromise your list and date them. God shapes our desires and wires us in certain ways to need and want different qualities in other people to complement what’s going on in our lives and hearts/minds, which translates into a unique and specific list of uncompromisable attributes.
These vital things are important, but above all else, if you love Jesus and follow Him, you can’t make it without having Him at the center of your relationship. Seek Him before you take the first step of dating, seek Him throughout the relationship, and seek Him if/when the relationship ends. If your identity isn’t firmly rooted in Jesus, then don’t date. Please. Take my word for it. It WILL hurt you and ruin you.
Relationships are hard, but rewarding. Dating is different than the idea of it. And people are hard to work with. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about friendships, the thing that isn’t as clear cut and definable as dating relationships. What are some lessons (that you’re willing to share) that you’ve learned from relationships?